Today we celebrated the end of the Church’s year with this great feast. Sometimes people have a difficulty with the concept of Christ as a King. It is easy to do “gentle Jesus meek and mild” at Christmas, or Jesus the kindly rabbi, even for non-Christians. The Risen Christ presents a greater challenge, of course. But Christ risen and returning is harder still. And, the most difficult of all to come to terms with is the Jesus who is risen and returning as the great judge upon the rainbow, looking upon whom every creature will either enter the new creation with him or face annihilation. This may be something to do with Protestantism; Luther was certainly unhappy with the Mediaeval dooms presented to him during his youth and felt that his life was blighted by fear of the Great Judge ruling the universe with a rod of iron. Many Catholics today seem to share this horror at any kind of fear; as if it is the thing which above all else destroys faith. It may be that the wrong type of fear – one which paralyses and becomes a terrible mental burden – does indeed strangle faith. But a healthy fear, awe in the presence of the Lord who creates all things and by his will holds them in being, who will return and to whom we must be able to look without shame, is not an evil.
The image of Monarchy is also one which continues to evoke a sense of great wonder in us. Although today the idea of the Monarch is so debased (for many tourists a glimpse of the British Royal Family is a part of what draws them to the palaces and houses of England, and that for many British people a tea party a Buckingham Palace is still a social event of some importance) we can hardly see how it can be said of Christ that he is a King. Or our historical imaginations have been so filled with appalling tyrants (Henry VIII) or sparring relatives (Maude and Stephen) or fops (George IV), that we think of Monarchs as thoroughly disreputable. We are tempted then to minimise Christ’s monarchy, or to interpret it only in terms of his words before Pilate, my kingdom is not of this world, as if that meant no earthly King could or would be like him, or indeed he like them. Yet, on the contrary, the kings of Europe and Byzantium understood themselves in terms of Christ’s kingship (at least, this was the ‘ideal’). They ought not be tyrants on the ancient eastern model, nor figureheads in the way a modern monarch is. People often trace this back to Constantine or Charles the Great, and very much imagine that Jesus did not foresee any such arrangements: these two great Roman and Frankish emperors simply used the monotheistic principle to back up the monarchical one, and so used Christianity to their own advantage. But there was another, civilising, side to the arrangement. If the kings and queens claimed that their authority and right to govern came from God, and that they themselves were an image of Christ the King, there was a consequential obligation upon them to act as if they really believed it. Like all human beings they did not always live up to their obligations, and the example of Ambrose and the Emperor Theodosius shows us that; but it also demonstrates not only (as people like to say) the “power” of the Catholic Church, but also the weight of moral obligation felt by monarchs who had accepted Christianity and the Christian model of kingship. The smaller kings of Mediaeval Europe too experienced this sense that they were to be royal shepherds and some – St. Louis, St. Edward the Confessor are but two examples – lived it out fully.
Today there is no Christian kingship, just as there is no Christendom. Instead we have technocracies, democracies, dictatorships and communist republics and the Church must live in such a world, preserving the truth which she has been given and giving expression to it. The feast of Christ the King helps us to do this. The Catechism says:
Christ already reigns through the Church. . .
Jesus Christ is Lord: he possesses all power in heaven and on earth. He is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion”, for the Father “has put all things under his feet.”. Christ is Lord of the cosmos and of history… Christ dwells on earth in his Church. the redemption is the source of the authority that Christ, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, exercises over the Church. “The kingdom of Christ (is) already present in mystery”, “on earth, the seed and the beginning of the kingdom”…
We are already at “the last hour”. “Already the final age of the world is with us, and the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way; it is even now anticipated in a certain real way, for the Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real but imperfect.” Christ’s kingdom already manifests its presence through the miraculous signs that attend its proclamation by the Church.
. . . until all things are subjected to him
Though already present in his Church, Christ’s reign is nevertheless yet to be fulfilled “with power and great glory” by the King’s return to earth. This reign is still under attack by the evil powers, even though they have been defeated definitively by Christ’s Passover. Until everything is subject to him, “until there be realized new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells, the pilgrim Church, in her sacraments and institutions, which belong to this present age, carries the mark of this world which will pass, and she herself takes her place among the creatures which groan and travail yet and await the revelation of the sons of God.” That is why Christians pray, above all in the Eucharist, to hasten Christ’s return...
In addition, today is also the fourth anniversary of my reception into the Catholic Church. These have been years not without trials but not unhappy ones either. In fact, I can say with all honesty that I could not now imagine being still an Anglican; I sometimes long for the old “ways” (especially at a particularly banal refrain of an awful hymn), but believe that all the elements which make the Church can only be found where I now am. This conviction has only increased over the past years and has become an defining aspect of my conscience which has helped my very much through some difficult patches. In the Anglican tradition they have a short season “of the Kingdom” leading up to today’s feast. It is not really a season in it’s own right, but the propers are all of a piece with the theme and it means that the feast does not just pop up from nowhere like a sort of ecclesial new year’s eve. I wonder if this is something which will be adopted in the Ordinariates? We shall have to wait and see…
Of your charity, please pray for me on the special anniversary, and for all of you, I will pray too.